The University of Rangoon (as it was then officially named) was established in December 1920. Starting from 2019 preparations were made for gala celebrations of the 100th anniversary of what was one of the top Universities in Southeast Asia during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. But the scourge of Covid 19 intervenes and even if the occasion were to be commemorated it probably would have to be done without much public gatherings and festivals as it was initially envisaged.
Second Rangoon University Student Strike of 1936 and ‘political storm’
One event which should be commemorated was the 2nd strike of the Rangoon University in early 1936. One of the protagonists of that notable event was the journalist and writer Oway အိုးဝေ U Nyo Mya(10 April 1914-29 September 1985).
In January 1936 Oway The Voice of the Peacock, Volume V, No. 1 (January 1936) by the Rangoon University Student Union) was published. The magazine included an article in English, ‘The Hell-hound At Large’ under the pseudonym ‘Yama Min’ (‘King of Hell’). It is a four-sentence, 104-word article not even as lengthy, as the gentle reader has read so far, of this article.
It would not be much of an exaggeration to state that ‘Hell-Hound’ article caused a political storm (more than a ‘storm in a teacup’, more on that later) which affects not only the history of the University of Rangoon but also added momentum to the student-led freedom struggle against colonial rule.
Of course, the identity of ‘Yama Min’ was withheld. The Editor Ko Aung San (as he then was) (13 February 1915-19 July 1947) refused to release the identity of the writer of that satirical if also scathing ‘piece’.
Soon thereafter student leaders Ko Aung San and Ko Nu (25 May 1907-14 February 1995) were expelled from the University in relation to the article, and it led to the 2nd University student strike in February 1936. Of course, since the 1960s it is generally known that Ko Nyo Mya (also known as Thein Tin) wrote that article. In the December 1970 issue of the now long-defunct Oway Journal writing under his real name Nyo Mya, U Nyo Mya narrated in Burmese ‘When I wrote the Hell-Hound article’ ကျွန်တော် “ငရဲခွေး” ဆောင်းပါးရေးစဉ်က how (in his own words) that short piece had unintended consequences.
Self-effacingly U Nyo Mya wrote that he did not mean to say that he, Ko Aung San, Ko Nu etc. were the ‘shining heroes’ of the historic 2nd Rangoon University strike လျှမ်းလျှမ်းတောက် သူရဲကောင်းတွေကို မဆိုလိုပါဘူးခင်ဗျာ. He also wrote that he (and the leaders of the student strike) were not ‘beating their chests and boasting out aloud’ that they were so ရင်ဘတ်စည်တီးပြီး ကြွားဝါခြင်း မဟုတ်ပါဘူးခင်ဗျာ
He also mentioned other names including (but not limited to) Ludu (‘The People’) Daw Amar (29 November 1915-7 April 2008) as persons who were involved in the 2nd Rangoon University strike.
U Nyo Mya also stated some persons had commented to the effect that the main ‘target’ of ‘The Hell-Hound At Large’ article was the late Myanaung U Tin who was one of the authorities at the then University of Rangoon.
Nyo Mya wrote that this imputation was not (necessarily) true. He wanted to target, he wrote in 1970, the then University authorities of 1935 who were ‘sycophants’ and not any particular person.
Nyo Mya also wrote that after the Second World War he invited Myanaung U Tin, gave obeisance to him; they went to a ‘photoshop’ in Myaynigoan မြေနီကုန်း ဓာတ်ပုံဆိုင် Rangoon and took photos of him giving obeisance to Myanaung U Tin. U Nyo Mya also gave those photos to Myanaung U Tin ‘for any future use’. He also wrote affectingly that Myanaung U Tin Aung was unable to withhold tears သူ့ခမျာ မျက်ရည်မဆည်နိုင်ရှာဘူး when Nyo Mya did that.
‘Goat Balls’ and their Deliciousness
Fast forward (from 1936) or back to the past (from the years 1970 or indeed 2020) to the year around 1946. U Nyo Mya had recently returned to Burma from post-graduate studies (among others) in the United Kingdom and United States (after obtaining an MSc in Journalism from North Western University). His University friend Ko Aung San had become General Bogyoke or U Aung San (since by early 1947 Bogyoke has retired from the military). U Aung San apparently said in a speech that some politicians of those times – human nature being human nature and politics being politics one might also add now- were like ‘goat balls’ ဆိတ်လစေ့(စိ) ‘swinging from one thigh to another’ meaning shifting political allegiances or to use a more polite term ‘swaying with the (political) winds’. My late mother Professor Dr Daw Myint Myint Khin (15 December 1923-19 June 2004) told me that Nyo Mya wrote in response to Bogyoke’s comment that ‘Bogyoke probably has not eaten goat balls; they are quite delicious!’.
I have not read that particular article published around 1946. It must have been published probably in the Oway newspaper or magazine which Nyo Mya established in the immediate post-War period. A search of the archives at Central Universities Library might locate the said article which reveals Nyo Mya’s impish sense of satire and his being unafraid to write bold comments even or especially if they ’emanate’ from eminent, revered or influential persons.
Doggerel or Thingyan Thangyat
Talking about powerful persons, let’s fast forward or revert to the past of April 1969. In the 15 April 1969 issue, the then newly republished Oway journal (it was republished around October 1968 and had to cease publication by Revolutionary Council’ fiat’ around June 1972) the following (proposed) Thingyan Thangyat သင်္ကြန်သံချပ် or doggerel appeared in an article by Maung Thumana မောင်သုမန (another pseudonym of Nyo Mya for his bi-monthly columns in the Oway journal):
General Ne Win a Chinese? His father has tattoos on his thighs!
Our General a China man? (pauk phaw)
When he was young, he wore long [Burmese] earrings!
Our leader, a Chinese money lender?
his family worshipped the traditional Talaing nats (‘spirits’) nought to do with the Chinese nats နတ်
with red ponytails!
Our great Country comprising of many provinces.
O, Yeah, let us joyously celebrate!
ဗိုလ်ချုပ်နေဝင်းတရုတ်ဆို သူ့အဖေမှာ ထိုးကွင်းကြီးနဲ့
တို့ဗိုလ်ချုပ်တရုတ်ဆို သူငယ်ငယ်က နားဋောင်းကြီးနဲ့
တို့ခေါင်းဆောင်ကြီး ထောင်ကဲဆို မိဆိုင်ဖဆိုင် တလိုင်းနတ်ပဲ
ကျစ်ဆံနီနဲ့ ဘာမှမဆိုင် တို့ တိုင်း၊နိုင်ငံ ဗမာပြည်ကွ
Perhaps the publication of the late Dr Maung Maung (then Chief Justice of the Union of Burma) (31 January 1925-2 July 1994) in both Burmese and English entitled Burma and General Ne Win မြန်မာနိုင်ငံရေးခရီးနှင့် ဗိုလ်ချုပ်ကြီးနေဝင်း was commented by the Burmese language service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) a week or so before Maung Thumana published his article in response to the BBC broadcast Maung Thumana was paraphrasing a speech General Ne Win (6 July 1910-5 December 2002) gave at the Convocation Hall of the Rangoon Arts and Science University on 30 April 1965 where Ne Win, among others, stated that there were allegations that he was Chinese. General Ne Win (earlier name Shu Maung) stated that if he were so since it was about ‘one’s father and one’s mother’ he would have said so (i.e. he was of Chinese ancestry or ‘extraction’). ကျွန်တော့ဆိုလျှင် တရုတ်တဲ့ဗျ၊ ဒီတော့ ဟုတ်ရင်ဟုတ်တယ်ပေါ့ဗျ။ ဘာဖြစ်လဲ အဖေအမေ
He proffered as ‘evidence’ of his non-Chinese ancestry as aptly summarised in the above ‘proposed’ Thangyat by Maung Thumana. (The full version of General Ne Win’s speech can be read in Burmese language newspapers of 1 May 1965 though in the English language newspaper The Guardian which I had obtained did not provide even a summary translation of his speech). It is said that (perhaps at times) General Ne Win can be quite tolerant of humour or satire about him and I can affirm that Maung Thu Mana’s Thangyat was published and the impish doggerel was not censored.
‘Storm in a Teacup’
This time ‘slow forward’ from 15 April 1969 to 15 June 1969 issue of Oway journal. On 3 June 1969, all state-owned newspapers published the various reports of the 33 men Internal Unity Advisory Board ပြည်တွင်းညီညွတ်ရေး အကြံပေးအဖွဲ့ which General Ne Win formed on 2 December 1968.
It included a separate proposal by U Nu that among others (1) Parliament abolished by Ne Win in the aftermath of the 1962 military takeover be recalled (2) that power be handed to him (U Nu) temporarily and he would make sure that newly convened Parliament mainly comprising of the remaining representatives of Parliament abolished in March 1962 will (3) elect General Ne Win as President, and he can serve two full 5-year term as President.
The full translation into English of U Nu’s proposal was published in both The Working People’s Daily and The Guardian. Within days vicious, indeed vitriolic critiques, as well as crude cartoons mocking U Nu’s proposal (U Nu was in India since April 1969) written by the literary hacks of the then regime, were published.
Maung Thumana was perhaps the only journalist of worth who stood with his Ko Gyi (elder brother) Nu in an article entitled in translation ‘Storm in a Teacup’. Even if U Nu’s proposal of 1969 causes some political ‘storm’ perhaps –in contrast to the 1936 student strike- and as per Maung Thumana’s article it was more of a ‘storm in a teacup’.
In U Nu’s defence, Maung Thumana wrote that the fact of U Nu being a ‘top leader’ should not be forgotten ဦးနုဟာထိပ်တန်းခေါင်းဆောင်ကြီး တစ်ဦး ဖြစ်တယ်ဆိုတာကိုလဲ မမေ့သင့်ဘူးဗျ and that how could U Nu have asked otherwise?
The brave journalist U Nyo Mya, on this occasion also bucked the trend and did not ‘go with the flow’.
When U Nu made his Declaration in London together with the late U Law Yone (5 February 1911-27 June 1980) on 29 August 1969 that he was still the legal Prime Minister of Burma, the Declaration was again reproduced in full in the original English and Burmese translation on 3 September 1969 issues of all government-owned newspapers.
The vitriolic attacks against U Nu intensified, and the derogatory term ပြည်ပြေး Pyi Pyae (‘miscreants who run away from the country’) was devised by the regime’s literary hacks. Maung Thu Ma Na in another column that appeared in September 1969 issue of Oway concerning U Nu’s declaration wrote another commentary regarding U Nu’s rebellion.
Paraphrasing a Burmese poem of yore (cannot recall the name of the author) that the ‘the war drums’ calling forth for the rains of hate မုန်းရန်ဖွဲ့ မိုး (as evinced by U Nu’s declaration) (in the original poem it is written the rains that could cause nostalgia or sorrow) ဆွေးရန်ဖို့ မိုး had been beaten too early.
‘Eliminate’ Wrong Views if you wish but ‘spare our’ cravings
One more sense of impish humour of Nyo Mya can be mentioned here. In a January 1970 issue of Oway Journal there appeared an article (in rough translation) ‘Feel free to eliminate heretical views but kill not and please spare the craving’. ဒိဌိကို သတ်ချင်သတ်ပါ တဏှာကိုတော့ချမ်းသာပေးပါ
It was Maung Thumana’s response to a (‘Buddhist’) religious discourse by a particular (lay) person who purported to ‘kill off’ both all sorts of ‘cravings’ as well as ‘heretical views’ တဏှာသတ် ဒိဌိသတ်; the satirical journalist stated in effect that ‘Do kill heretical views but please spare the cravings since together with the workers on the sea and workers in the air we as workers with attachments and cravings are building a socialist society (or contributing to the welfare of the country). ရေလုပ်သားကြီးများ၊ လေလုပ်သားကြီးများနှင့်အတူ တဏှာလုပ်သားကြီးများ အဖြစ် တိုင်းပြည်အကျိုးကိုဆောင်ရွက် နေပါတယ် The reference to ‘workers in the air’ was perhaps an ironic reference to the rhetoric, ‘the airing’ by the then regime to ‘march towards socialism in our own Burmese way’!
In Search of Konbaung Dynasty and ‘Vehicle to Fly Across the Cosmos’
After the Oway journal was closed (in retrospective permanently) around June 1972, U Nyo Mya produced at least two books: a three-volume monograph ‘Commentary on Opium’ ဘိန်းဋီကာ (published 1974) and in May 1982 In Search of Kongbaung Dynasty ကုန်းဘောင် ရှာပုံတော် (the first of many editions of the book) was published. This writer has not even seen Commentary on Opium but has had a quick browse of In Search of Konbaung Dynasty on the world wide web where it can be read for free. Unlike his journalistic pieces where he wrote in colloquial, indeed punchy Burmese prose Nyo Mya’s writing style in the historical treatise was formal at times even rhetorical.
Suffice to say that in comparison with work of historian Sayagyi Dr Than Tun (6 April 1923-30 November 2005) (written in English) History of Buddhism in Burma: AD 1000-1300 (4th edition February 2020) Sayagyi U Nyo Mya’s work was (perhaps in the ‘content-neutral’ sense of the word) more ‘nationalistic’. One realizes though that (Pagan/Bagan) era under study by Dr Than Tun was at least between 750 years to about 585 years earlier than that of U Nyo Mya’s study of the Konbaung period. Western, especially British colonialism, had not reached our shores and our land during the Bagan era.
In one place in his treatise, U Nyo Mya mentioned about part Burmese, perhaps part Pali phrase Set Kyar Yin Pyan စင်္ကြာ ယာဉ်ပျံ (perhaps imperfectly translatable as ‘vehicle that can fly across the cosmos’) as an idea of the ancients (including ancient Burmans or Bamars?) which predated modern Space exploration by a few thousand years. He specifically compared it with the American ‘Sky Lab’ which was launched in May 1973, which fell onto Earth in July 1979.
It was not the ancients (be they- ancient- Indians, Sumerians, Egyptians etc.) who launched the ‘vehicle that can fly across the cosmos’. It was, starting with the contemporary Soviets (later Russians) Americans, (some) Europeans and the Chinese that build vehicles that reached the moon and flew-by a few planets in our solar system. The Space Age actually, historically (not in folklore or imaginings of yore of various cultures and civilizations) started with the launch of the human-made satellite Sputnik I on 4 October 1957 by the then Soviet Union.
Was the (at times) gentle wit being ironic (though not impish) in his juxtapositions with the ancients’ fantastical Sekkyar yin pyan စင်္ကြာ ယာဉ်ပျံ concept with now outdated and ‘demised’ Skylab? Or is my mentioning this (to quote from his own article of June 1969) a ‘storm in a teacup’?
This article also commemorates the 50th anniversary of U Nyo Mya’s article
ကျွန်တော် “ငရဲခွေး” ဆောင်းပါးရေးစဉ်က which was published in early December 1970